T Nation

Statements about Employee Competence/Incompetence

I’m doing some research on first impressions and need some help coming up with statements that signal employee competence/incompetence. The statements can’t signal personality (ie Tom works overtime) since that would be a confound, but things like experience, learning ability are fair game. The ostensible position is product manager
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. (Kevin/Tom) graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School
  2. At his previous job, (Kevin/Tom) found and fixed a major error in the user tracking software that could have resulted in major data breaches
  3. (Kevin/Tom) has had 10 years experience working as a senior product manager
  4. (Kevin/Tom) consistently rolled out projects weeks ahead of schedule as senior product manager
  5. (Kevin/Tom) was recognized as “Top Manager” 5 years in a row
  6. (Kevin/Tom) helped design a streamlined product development workflow that is now an industry standard
  7. Projects managed by (Keven/Tom) have never gone over budget.
  8. (Kevin/Tom) taught himself javascript, R, C++ and Python


  1. (Kevin/Tom) has no experience in design or systems management
  2. At his previous job, (Kevin/Tom) was infamous for making errors that took coworkers tens of hours to find and fix
  3. (Kevin/Tom) relies on coworkers to finish tasks assigned to him
  4. (Kevin/Tom) has never individually completed
  5. At his previous job, (Kevin/Tom) frequently misunderstood the nature of projects, resulting in poor planning and delays
  6. (Kevin/Tom) struggles with schedule management on projects, resulting in significant delays.

@strongmangoals, you seem to have some valuable input on matters like this

Do you need more statements or do you want to know if others agree that these are signs of competency or incompetency? How real do they need to be? Who is hypothetically making the statements? Is Kevin/Tom assumed to be honest?

If I were hiring C2 is very likely a violation of a employer/employee NDA and if that person (Kevin/Tom) volunteered that information I’d veto that hire.

C7 would also indicate that something is amiss, that just doesn’t happen.

C8 is not a sign of competency necessarily. It might show interest but as a standalone statements without any qualifiers it doesn’t matter during hiring. A person can be a self-taught guitar player but are they stage-ready or campfire ready? Or, a person can have learned a second language on their own but can they wield it appropriately?

I1 is not a sign of incompetence!

I4 seems like it’s missing a few words


Thanks for the feedback!

Both. The idea is to have participants form impressions of Tom/Dan as either competent/incompetent.

a hypothetical third party. Participants will look at photos of “Tom” and “Dan” along with the associated info. One will be “competent” and the other “incompetent”.

All statements are assumed to be true

It’d be interesting if you could do the test with images of both men and women.

I highly recommend you create an account on Hacker News and ask the same question. Enjoy some 400 answers.

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So I asked the question, but realized that the formatting got really screwed up and it wasn’t in the “Ask” section. How do I edit the post?

Kevin is highly competent but also a jagoff and Tom brings donuts on Wednesdays.

Fire Kevin.


Considering that 1/2 of the participants are supposed to think Tom is the competent jagoff, IDK who to fire :joy:

It will depend on the pictures you use.

If you make one pic a guy who is overweight, oily hair, and pitted pimply skin, vs. a young Brad Pitt, the fat pimply guy will be assumed to be incompetent, and the young Brad Pitt will be assumed to be very capable.

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I’m using pictures rated as equally competent and trustworthy to control for that confound.

You just summarized 10 papers that will end up in my literature review :joy:

Yeah. That can play out pretty interestingly in real life.

I had a division manager at a place I worked doing coal barge fleet repairs/maintenance. Dirty nasty work usually done by some dirty nasty people.

But the division manager had a real thing for young dudes, very slight build, and bright blue eyes.

So with turn over being what it was, over the course of like two months the division that used to be the baddest, nastiest bunch of bastards in the whole company started getting a bunch of wanna be boy band applicants that couldn’t weld for squat and were allergic to sledge hammers.

It was actually kind of hilarious except for the fact that we were still expected to remain productive.

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This dude must be crazy. Hire him already.

(Joke. Can’t comment on stuff like this)

Uhm, I presume there is an edit button. Did you find it?

This looks pretty good. If you are interested in first impressions, you may want to consider statements around appearance, confidence, how the person is perceived by others/colleagues and how agreeable they are.

Some other things to consider, the things that differentiate the good product managers from the bad ones where I work is understanding how clients/users benefit from the product, not getting screwed by vendors/contractors, being able to clearly and simply explain work that needs to be done (ie. Not confusing everyone)

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I’m interested in only competence. The purposes is to control for those factors.

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Social skills are a component of competence. “Stakeholders” can be internal as well as external, so clients are stakeholders, investors are stakeholders, and coworkers are stakeholders. All matter for the competent manager of any sort.